Delana and Samuel Curtis — a marriage not made in heaven
An oil portrait of Frank Jones of Portsmouth, painted in 1901 by artist Nellie Mathes Horne (1870-1950). The portrait was likely painted in the artist's studio in Boston. The painting is held in the collection of the Portsmouth Athenaeum. (Courtesy)
Delana Harrington of Manchester led a privileged existence. She had charm and good looks, and her family’s financial resources were available to enable her to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. However, she was not satisfied. Delana was a restless adventurer who was in love with the finer things in life, and she always wanted more. She could not be content with the security of quiet respectability, especially once she caught the eye of the famous ale maker, entrepreneur, and politician Frank Jones of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Delana and Frank began a close relationship when she was only 17 years old and living at boarding school. At some point this liaison became intimate. Delana may have seen her association with Frank Jones in a romantic light, but she was essentially playing the role of mistress to a powerful married man who was 20 years her senior. This was a precarious situation for a young lady, especially one of her high social status.
Delana and Frank spent time together in Portsmouth and New Castle, New Hampshire, as well as in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. Frank’s wife Martha eventually became suspicious, and as time went on Delana must have begun to worry — or at least her mother was growing more and more concerned. What would become of Delana if she didn’t settle down? Around 1879 Delana met a handsome and well-dressed young man, Samuel Fray Curtis. He was originally from Hatfield, a small town in western Massachusetts. Samuel had come to Manchester to seek his fortune. He had risen to become manager and part owner of a clothing store on Elm Street. He and Delana were married in Manchester on April 12, 1880. Delana was 28 and Samuel was 29. The marriage appears to have been doomed from the start. A friend of the Harrington family was interviewed by a reporter for the Boston Sunday Post for an article that was published on January 8, 1904. The woman had been a witness at the Harrington/Curtis wedding and she recalled Delana’s private words to her, “My God, I wish I was to be buried instead of married, for I don’t love the man I am going to marry today. It is all to please my mother. There is only one man in the world I love, and him I can’t have.”
In the early years of their marriage, Samuel and Delana Curtis lived in the Harrington family home on Hanover Street. Delana gave birth to daughter Margaret Mae Curtis in January 1881. In 1885 the couple built a large house at 1705 Elm Street, on the southeast corner of Salmon and Elm streets (now a vacant lot). At the same time Delana’s mother Margaret built the beautiful Queen-Anne style house nearby at 45 Bay Street. Delana’s brother Edward W. Harrington, Jr., the manager and treasurer of the Manchester Opera House, also lived there.
In future years much would be written about Frank Jones’ association with Delana Harrington Curtis. The published articles are consistent in mentioning that this relationship was a continuous one over many years, so it can only be concluded that Delana must have been carrying on with Frank during the time she was married to Samuel Curtis. It was widely rumored that Margaret Mae was Frank’s daughter, something that Delana neither confirmed nor denied.
Samuel became deeply troubled, and took up drinking. He lost his management position and the part ownership of the clothing store, and ended up as a mere salesman at the establishment. His financial woes led him to borrow over $1,900 from his brother-in-law Edward, which he never paid back. Finally, in 1895 Samuel abandoned what little was left of his marriage and took off for New York City. Delana soon divorced him on the grounds of desertion.
Secure in her personal and family wealth, Delana now felt free to flaunt her special friendship with Frank Jones. She would entertain him at her house on Elm Street when he was in Manchester on business. He demonstrated his appreciation and affection by extensively remodeling and improving Delana’s property. Frank installed electric lighting and added a tall tower to the house. He also added a pleasant wide veranda to Delana’s yard.
Next Week: The life of Portsmouth’s Frank Jones..
Aurore Eaton is a historian and writer in Manchester, e-mail her at email@example.com.